Covington, a member of the Nevada Amateur Radio Association (NARA), is what those in the industry call a ham radio operator. His local group, W7YN, includes two other members, and notifies and alerts the public of emergency situations like fires, floods and missing children.
“During times of emergency, we step in,” Covington said, explaining that ham radio operators are useful when other forms of communication are not available. “Our purpose is to look out for the health and welfare (of people).”
And Covington, who has been a licensed amateur radio operator for 44 years, said he is proud of the service his group provides, as operators have worked closely with the Red Cross and the Salvation Army during local natural disasters like the New Year’s flood in 1997 and summer wildfire seasons.
Amateur radio is allowed by federal law for the purpose of having trained civilians proficient in radio operations to be used during times of emergency.
Although the influx of today’s communications have expanded the reach of information, W7YN members said they believe ham radio will always have a place, often citing their slogan, “When all else fails …”
“This is not your grandfather’s radio anymore,” said Gordon Harris, who goes by "W7UIZ" and is the president of NARA. “The communications networks that ham radio people can quickly create have saved many lives in the past months when other systems failed or were overloaded.”
Quite unique to their system, W7YN still actively uses Morse code, as Covington said, to avoid confusion over radio frequencies where many people may be shouting.
“We actually prefer Morse code,” Covington said, explaining that his cell phone message alert is even set to a Morse code message.
With nearly 650,000 amateur radio operators in the United States, ham radio does not seem to be going away anytime soon, as it has provided vital emergency information for such natural disasters as the California wildfires, Oregon and Michigan storms, tornadoes and even Hurricane Katrina.
But sometimes, as T.J. Muncey, a.k.a. "W7DIK," admitted, the radio transmitters can provide enjoyment while away from home.
“It’s comforting to know someone is right there,” said Muncey, an operator for 63 years. “Sometimes I just enjoy listening more than talking.”
All active members of local group W7YN said they were self-taught, as several even worked as transmitters during the Vietnam War and other armed services.
“I’ve helped out with downed aircrafts and sinking ships,” Covington said.
Most recently, the NARA hosted its annual 24-hour field day event on June 28 and 29, showcasing their skills with new technology and voice communications in hopes of showing the public how necessary ham radio knowledge can be, explaining that it is even practiced by numerous astronauts, including Greg Chamitoff.
Mainly, Covington said, the local NARA group just wants to get the word out and will help others obtain their FCC license.
Those interested can expect to pay $40 for books and license fees and another $200 on equipment.
“This is a hobby that you can do 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Covington said. “You can have casual conversations and make friends from time to time.”